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60-Second Science

Stressed Women Burn Fewer Comfort Food Calories

Women who reported feeling stressed or depressed burned fewer calories after a calorie-packed meal than mellow women. Erika Beras reports.

Sometimes, after a long, hard day, all you want is a bacon cheeseburger, a pile of fries and maybe a desert doughnut. After all, the stress that seems to be eating you up can be eased by what you eat up, right? Sadly, it’s time to burst the bubble in your comfort food milkshake.

Researchers asked women about things that had recently stressed them out. The women were then given a fat-and calorie-packed meal of eggs, turkey sausage and biscuits and gravy. The researchers then measured the womens’ metabolism, blood sugar, cholesterol, insulin and stress hormones.

Turns out that the most stressed women had higher levels of insulin. Which slows down metabolism and causes the body to store fat. And that fat, if not burned off, accumulates in the body.

The women who had reported feeling stressed or depressed in the day before eating the meal burned 104 fewer calories during the seven hours following the meal than women who felt more mellow. The study is in the journal Biological Psychiatry. [Janice K. Kiecolt-Glaser et al: Daily Stressors, Past Depression, and Metabolic Responses to High-Fat Meals: A Novel Path to Obesity]

If eating high-calorie comfort food to alleviate stress becomes habitual, the result could be an average weight gain of 11 pounds per year. Which brings its own stress—like spending money on new clothes.

—Erika Beras 

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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